The Broncos won their 10th-straight game while the Browns record their second-consecutive loss as a result of this one.
It marks the fourth-straight double-digit loss season for the Browns. In 2007-08, the Browns finished 10-6 but failed to reach the postseason.
Denver easily marched down the field and completed an eight play, 80-yard opening drive that ended with a 22-yard TD connection between Peyton Manning and Demaryius Thomas.
Brandon Weeden and the Browns struck back on their first possession but that drive stalled in the end zone. Phil Dawson came in and chipped in a 27-yard field goal to bring the Browns within four points.
Denver's second drive took a little longer but the result was the same. Manning found Eric Decker in the back of the end zone to add to the Broncos' advantage, making it a 14-3 game early in the second quarter.
Cleveland got the ball first in the second half and moved down the field with the help of a questionable 15-yard penalty on the Champ Bailey for hitting Weeden during a late slide.
A Von Miller sack on Weeden forced a 4th-and-long and the Browns were forced to settle for a 53-yard Phil Dawson field-goal attempt. Dawson nailed it to bring the Browns within eight.
After the Browns settled for another field goal, the Broncos took their opening-half possession 91 yards on 12 plays. Manning hit Eric Decker for the second time on an 8-yard TD connection.
The first scoring of the fourth quarter came after Josh Cribbs muffed a punt. Manning took a shot for the end zone on the ensuing play and Buster Skrine interfered, giving the Broncos the football on the 2-yard line. Jacob Hester ran it in two plays later to officially put this game out of reach for the Browns.
After some early struggles, Colt McCoy settled in and got into a rhythm and drove the Browns down the field to put six points on the board. He connected with Greg Little on a 6-yard TD completion to cap a 10-play, 80-yard drive.
BRANDON WEEDEN: C-
Quarterback is and will continue to be a position of concern for the Cleveland Browns until they can find a reliable signal caller. Neither Brandon Weeden nor Colt McCoy showed that either should be at the helm of a successful NFL franchise with their performances in Week 16.
Weeden, though, played relatively well in the early going of this game. He started by completing several passes into tight windows and moved the ball effectively on the opening drive of the game. Some miscues and overthrown passes continued to plague the rookie QB.
Both times the Browns got within striking Weeden and the offense laid up and failed to put the ball into the end zone.
Colt McCoy: D+
Colt McCoy took over at QB at the end of the third quarter and continued behind center for the Cleveland Browns in the fourth quarter. His first pass attempt of the game didn’t go very well. The former starting QB badly overthrew his target over the middle.
McCoy was visibly rusty, throwing several balls into the grass before they reached his intended targets. He showed a lot of the same things he did as a starter. His saving grace, a 6-yard TD completion to Greg Little, came after a questionable pass interference call gave the Browns the ball inside the Broncos’ 10-yard line.
Despite putting up seven points, McCoy was way off on many of his throws and took four sacks in just one quarter of action.
Trent Richardson: B+
Richardson ran extremely hard before suffering a late-game ankle injury that may have seen his rookie season come to an end.
He consistently broke tackles and gained yards after the tackle nearly every time he got the football. It wasn’t much and he didn’t have many opportunities, but his tough running was definitely a bright spot.
Montario Hardesty: B-
Hardesty came in and had a couple of nice runs in relief for Richardson. He finished with just three touches himself and 14 yards on the ground.
Chris Ogbonnaya: C
Two catches for two yards is all the third-string Ogbonnaya got out of this one while playing in a limited role.
Brad Smelley: B
Smelley recorded his first career reception on a short dump on a check down by Brandon Weeden. The completion is encouraging considering the struggles of Owen Marecic and Alex Smith while catching passes out of the backfield.
Greg Little: A-
Little had a good game, despite being flagged for offensive pass interference and dropping a pass on the same third-down attempt.
He made up for it by catching all six of his other targets and hauling in the Cleveland Browns only touchdown of the game. Colt McCoy found Little crossing over the middle and Little pulled it down and extended his arm of the goal line to ensure he got the TD.
Josh Gordon: D
This wasn’t a big game for the Cleveland Browns, and it wasn’t for Josh Gordon, either. The standout rookie WR was targeted just three times and caught just one of those targets for a 7-yard gain. He laid a hit on Tracey Porter on the play, knocking him out of the game.
Travis Benjamin: C+
Benjamin caught some nice passes from Colt McCoy during the waning moments of the game, totaling three catches for 46 yards.
Josh Cooper: D-
Cooper was back in action with Mohamed Massaquoi sitting out this week due to an injury. He dropped one target and couldn’t haul in another and finished the game with no catches.
Benjamin Watson: B
Watson made some nice catches but finished with just a 30 percent completion percentage. That isn’t all Watson’s fault, though. Brandon Weeden overthrew him a couple of times and Colt McCoy through a few in the grass.
None of those targets were catchable. Watson finished with three grabs for 47 yards.
Alex Smith: C
Smith’s role was diminished thanks to the addition of Brad Smelley into the game plan. He did have a TE screen called for him but the play was blown up and he lost two yards on the attempt.
Joe Thomas: B
Joe Thomas was beat for a sack in the waning moments of the game but overall played a solid game against a tough Broncos pass rush.
John Greco: B-
Greco played a fundamentally sound game with exception to a false start call in the fourth quarter. The Browns didn’t give up much inside pressure and ran the ball effectively when going through the interior of the line.
Alex Mack: B
Mack’s false start in the red zone on 2nd-and-10 pushed the Browns back and they ended up settling for a field goal. Overall, Mack created some push in the middle of the line and helped keep the interior pass rush off of his quarterback.
Shawn Lauvao: B-
Lauvao started out with a false start penalty that backed up the Browns early on, but that didn’t lead to a meltdown by the embattled right guard. He held his own for much of the game while playing next to a rookie that was under fire on the edges all afternoon.
Mitchell Schwartz: D+
The rookie RT was going up against some very tough competition and held his own for much of the afternoon. However, he was beat a couple of times for sacks by Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil. On one of the plays he held Miller and the tough blitzer still got to Brandon Weeden and dropped him for a sack.
One sack by Miller forced a 53-yard FG attempt by Phil Dawson, that he nailed, and the sack by Dumervil came on a fourth-down try.
Jabaal Sheard: C+
Sheard was aggressive on the edges but wasn’t able to get after Peyton Manning. The veteran QB released the ball quickly when he felt pressure and neutralized the usually effective pass rush of the Cleveland Browns front four’s pass rush.
A neutral zone infraction gave Broncos a first down.
Ahtyba Rubin: B
Rubin played tough in the middle for the Browns, pushing blockers aside and clogging up running lanes. He blew up an audibled draw play by Manning, breaking through a double team to stop the runner behind the line of scrimmage.
Phil Taylor: C
Taylor wasn’t much of a factor on the stat sheet or on the pass or rush defense’s efforts to slow down the Broncos.
Frostee Rucker: C+
Rucker was active on the field for the Browns defense but wasn’t able to make an impact in the backfield in order to slow down Manning. He was in on four total tackles, one of them coming on a rare drop into zone coverage in the flat.
John Hughes: C+
Hughes continued to get a lot of snaps in the Browns defensive line rotation. He recorded just two tackles and batted one of Peyton Manning’s passes down at the line of scrimmage.
Juqua Parker: C-
Parker was again flagged for his aggressiveness. The Browns sack leader jumped in neutral zone on third down and gave the Broncos a 3rd-and-2 after a 3rd-and-long attempt.
Billy Winn: B-
Winn, like fellow rookie Hughes, continued to see a significant amount of snaps as part of the Browns rotation up front. He bull rushed his blocker into Manning’s face and forced a blooper incompletion.
Hall Davis: B
Davis, a new addition for the Browns, recorded a rare pressure on Manning. He pressured the veteran QB, forcing an errant incompletion. Other than that, he showed a solid pass rush at times but didn’t get a chance to finish a sack on Manning.
Craig Robertson: B+
Robertson was all over the field, racking up a game-high 14 tackles (12 solo) and one tackle for a loss. However, despite his aggressiveness and tenacity he was beat easily in coverage by running back Knowshon Moreno and TE Jacob Tamme.
D’Qwell Jackson: B
Jackson recorded eight tackles and one tackle for a loss in his usual solid performance in the middle of the Browns defense.
L.J. Fort: C
Fort rarely played due to the heavy amount of nickel defense run by the Browns against Peyton Manning.
Kaluka Maiava: C
Like Fort, the Browns played a lot of nickel defense this week and he was rarely on the field.
Joe Haden: A-
Haden was beat for a first down but otherwise held his own. Peyton Manning chose to target the weaker spots in the secondary, anywhere else than where Haden was.
Sheldon Brown: F/Incomplete
Brown left with a head injury after a collision with Brandon Stokley on a pic-play that was flagged.
Before he left he was beat for 2 TDs. While he did have good coverage on both plays, that isn’t good enough against top-tier passing games like that of the Broncos.
Buster Skrine: D
Skrine was forced into a starting cornerback position after Brown was knocked out of the game. He made several tackles, but most of them came after the underneath passes of Manning were caught for small gains.
Skrine was playing with a huge cushion on Demaryius Thomas, with good reason. Following Josh Cribbs’ muffed punt he was flagged for pass interference and illegal contact on the same play. The penalty may have prevented a TD by Thomas but it gave the Broncos the ball on the 2-yard line.
Trevin Wade: D
Wade was thrust into action thanks to Brown’s injury and the departure of Dimitri Patterson, who was cut during the week leading up to the game. He was tested and came out on the losing end several times.
Eric Hagg: B-
Hagg actually played a decent game, filling in for the injured Tashaun Gipson. He recorded just one tackle but wasn’t beat badly throughout the game, although one pass attempt in the corner of the end zone was overthrown by Manning and could have been a touchdown.
Usama Young: C
Young continues to struggle in pass coverage. He was out run by Jacob Tamme for a huge gain to put the Broncos into Browns territory. His interception of Peyton Manning came on a very poorly thrown pass that was nowhere near his intended receiver.
Phil Dawson: A
Dawson’s 53-yard FG says it all about the trusty veteran kicker. He was perfect, nailing both of his two field goals and continually kept the Denver Broncos return game out of the picture with booming kickoffs.
Reggie Hodges: B
Hodges didn’t boot any bombs this week but he also didn’t shank any punts, either. His 42.3 average is respectable.
Josh Cribbs: D+
Cribbs had a huge return negated by a block in the back penalty. A muffed punt set up a Denver Broncos touchdown, one that put the game away for Denver.
ENTIRE COACHING STAFF: C
It’s hard to game plan for Peyton Manning considering he has the acumen to diagnose defenses and cater his offense to his perceived interpretation of what that defense is giving him.
On offense, though, the Cleveland Browns did good job of moving the ball at times. A lack of involvement of Trent Richardson in the game plan, despite his increasingly tough running and ability to pile up yards after the catch is concerning.
Richardson was finally getting into a groove but received just nine carries, totaling 53 yards on those limited opportunities. Had the game gone differently and been closer on the scoreboard, that number may have been higher.
It’s hard to draw the line where poor execution ends and bad coaching begins. There has been a heavy dose of both of those this season, though.